Striped bass fishing in California can be pretty epic.
From ocean-run stripers to the feisty landlocked variety, California’s got you covered.
Striped bass are a highly sought-after gamefish, due to their size and their fight. Rumor has it they also make pretty good table fare as well. Fish tacos, anyone?
California’s main areas that hold anadromous stripers are the San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Delta and river systems.
In the striper world, anadromous fish are the big guys. On the West Coast, they travel as far north as the Umpqua River on the central Oregon coast, feeding on anchovies, then head into the bays and river systems to spawn.
Striped bass has been thriving in the waters along California since they were introduced from the East Coast in the 1870’s.
According to historical records, 132 fingerlings were introduced to San Francisco Bay. A few years later, 300 more were planted.
Within a decade, stripers had become prevalent enough to support commercial fishing. However, the commercial fishery was stopped in 1935 to strengthen the recreational anglers’ access to the fish.
Striper fishing draws the sport fishing crowds. Some areas are so popular that you’ll find the best holes crowded before sunrise.
You’ll know it’s a striper on the end of your line by its coloring and especially its distinctive stripes. Colors can range from copper to steel blue with brass hints, and it has seven or eight horizontal lines along its sides.
So, now that you know what a striper looks like let’s take a look at how to catch it.
How to Catch Striped Bass
Stripers are very predatory feeders that hunt mainly for smaller fish.
They love anchovies and sardines, along with threadfin shad. Expose the meat on the shad to get the most attention.
Ocean-run stripers can get huge, with records in some areas in the 80- to 90-pound range.
Your trout gear isn’t going to cut it here. Use a medium action 7- to 8-foot rod with a reliable reel. Spooling 200-250 yards of 20- to 40-pound braid should do the trick for bigger stripers.
Trolling works well for stripers. There is a particular method for the presentation that seems to be more popular. Use plugs, spoons, and jigs in double setups.
Check with some of the local anglers to find what’s working that day.
Weight is essential, as they tend to hold deeper than other bass before and after the spawn.
As with black bass, stripers don’t love bright light. During daylight hours, target shady spots like overpasses, bridges, piers and docks.
The two hours before and after high tide are the best in tidally influenced areas. Estuaries and entrances to the bay are great targets as well.
Search out the ends of jetties to find more deep-water access. Keep your wits about you when fishing from jetties.
Delta stripers are fans of split tail and jacksmelts for bait.
You’re much more likely to catch a giant with these. Jacksmelt are found out in the bay and are caught with small spoons and lures. Check out current regulations. Split tails have typically been limited at 2.
If you’re up in one of the sloughs, rig up a lightweight rig with several bait hooks and go after them with worms.
When to Fish for Striped Bass
Each season will find stripers showing up in different regions of the deltas and river systems.
Following the migration patterns of anadromous stripers, we’ll start in the winter.
Each winter, stripers enter the Bay and Delta areas from the Pacific, heading inland to prepare for the spawning run. That makes winter the best time to fish these tidal areas.
Colder water will cause the bass to slow down and group up.
The bigger fish move into shallower waters, while the rest hold in 20 to 30 feet of water. The bait they chase balls up, so they do too.
Spring brings warmer waters, and the main spawning runs up the rivers.
The Sacramento River system starts to fill up with stripers as they migrate up to Knights Landing and Colusa to start the spawn. April and May are the prime time.
Summer can be a difficult time to target sea-run striped bass. The spawning run is over, the fish returned to the ocean and Bay area, and with warmer water, the bass spread out through the water.
The best option in the summertime is to try out surf fishing as they move up and down the coast.
Fall finds stripers moving into the lower delta areas again, cruising the flats.
Anadromous stripers are the biggest prize.
Striped bass that enter the ocean for part of the year are generally larger than their land-locked brethren. The sea has a much richer and varied buffet available to stripers than lakes and rivers.
These bass enter the San Francisco Bay area in the fall through winter and hang out until spring. During the winter, they cruise around the bays and deltas, chasing baitfish around. That makes them prime for catching.
Let’s dig into the Bay area and see where the best spots to try fishing for striped bass are.
San Francisco Bay
The Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate has some pretty good action for those with boat access.
The best bets here are around the southern tower. Hit this area after a big tide swing.
The bass caught here average five to 10 pounds. Bigger ones are relatively common as well, with weights up into the 40- to 50-pound range rare but possible.
Berkeley Flats Marina
Hit this area found just off Alcatraz and Treasure Islands.
Trolling works great here with the standard fare. Try to hit it when there is a strong incoming tide.
If you don’t have access to a boat, try your luck at one of the piers in the area. Fisherman’s Wharf can be a good spot if you can get away from the tourists a bit.
Raccoon Strait/Angel Island
Raccoon Strait separating Angel Island from the mainland (Tiburon Peninsula) offers fantastic fishing.
Some anglers swear by using a whole anchovy here, while others will use whole bullhead or live shiners. Check with current regulations to stay up to date on live bait options.
Shore fishing the bay is all about location. Stripers tend to hold around the troughs and rocky structures throughout the bay.
You’ll find the bay doesn’t have a massive amount of bottom structural changes, so target the areas that allow migrating fish access to the bay near rocks and piers.
Look for eelgrass as well. Once you find some, focus on the edges of the weed bed.
An excellent tip for scouting potential fishing spots is to walk the bay during a very low tide. Watch for ridges and holes that could hold fish when the tide is back in.
Find a nearby landmark, like a pier, some pilings, or even buildings that you can align with your spot. When the tide is back in, head out and give it a try.
Several piers around the bay provide excellent striper fishing. Some of these have fees to use, though there are several that are free of charge.
The best part of pier fishing is the ability to get out deep enough to fish the edges of the stronger currents.
Shipping lanes are almost reachable from some of the piers, so that would get your bait out there into the realm of the bigger stripers.
Berkeley Fishing Pier
The Berkeley Fishing Pier stands out as a local favorite. It’s worth the trip. Use anchovies or shiners, and you’ll have a good chance at bringing in a few.
Ashby Avenue in Berkeley is a great place to access the shoreline for some good spots as well.
Deadman’s Rock is a popular spot, though watch out for sneaky currents. It’s also very popular with the surfing community.
South San Francisco Bay
South San Francisco Bay has some spectacular striped bass fishing, from the Pacifica Pier and around to San Mateo and up to Candlestick Park.
There are multiple hot spots to be found, along with excellent halibut fishing as well.
The Delta systems from San Francisco into the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers are a vast area to cover.
Stripers like the brackish areas where the saltier water meets the fresh waters from the rivers.
Some of the top spots for stripers in the Delta are around the mouths of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.
The Suisun Bay has a few hotspots for stripers.
Montezuma Slough on the north end of the bay is a popular spot to troll with live minnows or Rattletrap lures.
Covering a lot of ground is the key to a successful day. Troll around 3-4 mph and keep moving until you find them.
Some anglers will stop trolling once on the school and switch to jigging or tossing lures. Anchovies are always a favorite, along with shad and shiners.
Big bass are around the West Delta, but they hold deep along the sides of primary channels. Check out the slope and contours of the channel and watch for fish on your electronics.
Once you find a few, anchor up, and you’ll be right over the top of them.
The number of fish caught in the West Delta will be lower than some areas, but the size will be much more significant. It’s possible to bring in a fish of 25 to even 50 pounds.
Fish closer to the pumps for smaller fish but faster action.
Seal Islands hold good numbers in pretty shallow water. Hold up in stronger currents, drop anchor, and fish in 5-15 feet of water.
Roe Island, Honker Bay and Snag Island are more great targets for anchored fishing. The water is generally shallower, and the number of stripers congregating around these islands can explode in an instant from a strong tidal move.
The baitfish they chase tend to stick to the sides of the channels here and can be found on the downstream side of any rock piles.
For a wider look at fishing this area, read Fishing the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Delta.
The Middle Grounds are found along the narrower section between Suisun Bay and Pittsburg.
This area is a great starting point if you are planning on trolling up toward the rivers.
The Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers meet just up from Middle Grounds, with stripers holding here, waiting for the spawning run up the Sacramento.
Trolling from the Middle Grounds upriver or back into the bays can be decided based mainly on water temperature. If the water is above 60°, you’ll do well.
Fish your bait off the bottom throughout the Middle Grounds.
Some anglers recommend fishing on a free spool with the clicker on. Don’t set the hook until the line starts peeling off the reel.
You can use two rods per angler, so cast them out to cover as much water as possible.
The river systems flowing into the Delta provide some of California’s best striped bass fishing.
Every year the Sacramento starts running more turbid in the spring. That is the go sign for stripers to head upriver. Without turbid water, the striped bass doesn’t head as far upstream.
Starting at Decker Island and heading upriver towards Pittsburg will have you going through a few excellent striper areas.
If possible, hit this section on an outgoing tide and set anchor in 25-40 feet of water.
Soak some bait for a few minutes, and if they’re around, you’ll soon be catching.
Some days can be epic, while others can be a total bust. Always worth trying out.
Heading upriver, you’ll encounter the Rio Vista Bridge, and just beyond that, the Das Cliff Haus.
There are some great clam beds around the area that are full of stripers.
Also, Three Mile Slough is always good for several types of bass, including stripers.
Upriver on the Sacramento between Sac and Princeton is a significant spawning ground.
Fishing around Knights Landing and Colusa can be some of the best striper action around during the spawn.
Hundreds of thousands of stripers make their way to this area to spawn before returning to the sea.
The river in this area offers some tremendous topwater action, so give that a try.
The Feather River has a history of good striper action, though it depends on water flow.
The confluence with the Yuba River is a great spot, focusing around the island and just upriver.
There are a few areas that might hold good numbers from Riverpark all the way back downstream to the confluence with the Sacramento River.
San Joaquin River
The San Joaquin River has several striped bass locations.
Starting at the convergence and heading upriver, check out the Big Break area, then expect to find some good-sized stripers holding around the False River entrance.
Be careful if you head up the False River as it has some very shallow points that are only passable during high tides.
Heading farther upriver, target the sides of the channel as you pass the entrance to Three Mile Slough and head around the bend of Bradford Island.
Next up, you’ll find Whiskey Slough, which can be fantastic, though it’s often super crowded on weekends during peak season.
Some anglers skip most other areas and focus on Whiskey Slough and the surrounding areas.
Keep heading up to Stockton. The Stockton area has some great shore access to the river.
Colorado River System
The Colorado River System on the Arizona border is definitely a destination worth visiting. There are stunning views, beautiful waters and incredible fishing opportunities.
This area breaks down into a few sections to make navigating it a bit easier.
Also, be sure to add the proper Arizona Special Use Enhancement to your California fishing license.
Stateline to Lake Havasu
Just off I-40 near Needles, you’ll find access to the Colorado River.
Starting at Piute Wash, California, the river marks the border between Arizona and California. Fishing from Piute Wash downriver to Red Rock Bridge can turn up a few striped bass, along with some flathead catfish.
Lake Havasu brings several angling opportunities around its many bays and canyons. Search out Pulpit Rock and Topock Gorge in the upper reaches.
Downriver to the main body of the lake, there are some submerged culverts that hold several types of fish, with stripers being prevalent.
Lake Havasu also has multiple points and drop-offs to investigate.
Around Pittsburg Point, the prominent peninsula at Lake Havasu City, there are several steep shelves to target. Site 6 in this area has some great topography, which brings in the stripers to feed on baitfish.
Also don’t miss Catfish Bay, on the California side just before the main reservoir widens out.
Whipple Bay and Steamboat Cove shouldn’t be missed, on either side about five miles down reservoir from Lake Havusu City. Try trolling across from the point of Whipple Bay to Steamboat and back.
There are so many great areas on Lake Havasu to target stripers that we can’t cover them all.
Just know that when you get tired of catching stripers, there are always flatheads and record-setting redear sunfish to look for.
Parker Dam to Palo Verde Dam
From Parker Dam downriver to Palo Verde Dam has extensive backwaters and canyons to explore.
It can be difficult to just target one species through this area. Stripers, largemouth, smallmouth, crappie, channel cats and flatheads are eager to snap up a baitfish or lure.
Some spots seldom get fished, while others will have several anglers stacked up. Just keep searching with your electronics, and it’ll pay off.
Palo Verde Dam to Yuma
The first stop along the river should be the BLM land primitive boat launch. While the launch isn’t spectacular, the scenery and fishing are.
Downriver from here, there are several drop-offs and flats to target.
Head downstream until you hit Horace Miller Park. The edges of the tiny inlet hold vast numbers of fish under the proper conditions.
The next major area to target is the Palo Verde Oxbow Inlet.
The inlet is known to be a great fishing area. Stripers are in good numbers, and the flatheads are waiting for the same baitfish.
Next up is the Old River Channel. There are conveniences and a boat dock here.
Now you’re entering the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge. Pay attention here because camping is prohibited through portions of the river. Check current regulations before heading out.
Picacho State Recreation Area is up next, with great boat camping and excellent striper fishing. Don’t miss Taylor Lake, a large backwater lake connected to the river.
From here to Ferguson Lake on the California side, there are several significant fishing areas, though the main river in this area has less traffic than the lake.
You may show up to a stacked lake with little room to maneuver. It’s also possible to show up to an empty lake with outstanding fishing.
Next up is Imperial Reservoir.
This area has some extraordinary fishing but can be interrupted by the release of water from Senator Wash Reservoir. It’s not that likely during low water, but something to be aware of.
Northern and Central California Striper Lakes
The northern and central parts of California have several lakes that offer the adrenalin rush that comes from catching a big striper.
While lake-bound stripers aren’t on average as big as anadromous bass, it’s not unheard of to catch a 20- or even 30-pounder.
Lake Mendocino offers striper fishing, excellent camping facilities, and easy access to lodging and dining.
Just outside Ukiah, northwest of famous Clear Lake, Lake Mendocino can be an ideal spot for a family getaway.
Fishing can be good to excellent, although under drier conditions the lake does shrink considerably, which leaves the campgrounds pretty far from the actual lake.
Fishing this lake requires focusing on where forage is available to the stripers.
Target every weed line that drops off into deeper waters and throw crankbaits that look like the baitfish. Make that thing look like an injured, limping fish, and you’re bound to get some to bite.
Stripers are constitutionally required to eat injured baitfish. They can’t pass them up.
Los Vaqueros Reservoir
“Drive to Livermore,” they said. “It’ll be worth it,” they said.
As you pull up to Lake Vaqueros, you may question why you are here. The immediate answer: Big, angry, attacking stripers.
Stripers are present, often in good numbers, with striped bass commonly in the 6- to 10-pound range and fish over 20 pounds not uncommon.
One place to focus your energy at Vaqueros is Cowboy Cove.
You could do well on stripers and largemouth bass in this same area. The cove provides shelter to a lot of baitfish, so the predators cruise around looking for dinner.
Also, Los Vaqueros also happens to be one of the best rainbow trout fishing lakes in California.
Livermore offers plenty of amenities and is a pretty nice town when it comes down to it. In hindsight, it’s always worth it to drive to Livermore.
Just north of Fresno, Millerton Lake has good to excellent striper fishing in the spring and fall.
Millerton also has a unique landlocked population of American shad, providing another menu item for big bass.
There are several camping and lodging options near the reservoir, and if you forgot to pack something, Fresno is just down the road.
To find the stripers, use topwater plugs in the morning, making as much of a racket as you can. Once it warms up, it’s time to troll umbrella rigs until the evening cool sets in.
New Hogan Lake
New Hogan Lake northeast of Stockton doesn’t just have stripers in it. It has big stripers. At last check the lake record is 31½ pounds, just waiting to be broken.
Put your effort into focusing on the Deer Point, Coyote Point and Fiddleneck areas. Search out the bottom structure, and you’ll do well.
The Whiskey Creek area can offer some good bait fishing, with the local baitfish trying their best to hide in the surrounding weeds.
Hit the weed lines with good impersonations of them, or better yet, actual baitfish, and you should be in business.
There are several camping options in the area, so plan ahead and reserve if possible. The lake fills up quickly.
San Luis Reservoir
Pretty near everyone that fishes at San Luis Reservoir targets striped bass, because it’s full of them.
In this lake west of Los Banos, stripers like to hang out reasonably shallow or very deep. Not a lot of fish are found in the middle.
The shallower coves hold some pretty sweet stripers around 8-12 pounds. It’s always worth hitting the weed lines with some Lucky Craft Pointers or other lures in shad patterns.
Target the top 20 feet or below 60.
Southern California Striper Lakes
Often top billed as one of the best largemouth bass lakes in Southern California, Castaic Lake also is a great place to have on the list in your pursuit of stripers.
There are rental boats available to get you out on the water hunting for stripers, and a bait shop and mini-mart for the rest of your needs.
Watch your electronics and when you find them, drop to their depth, and it will be fish on. “But Wait!” you say. “How can I judge the depth if I just let my line drop?”
Well, that is a great question. If you aren’t set up with a line counter, one option is to cast out approximately 20 yards and mark your line. Let it drop from there and feel for any bites.
When your pole bends, make another quick mark on the line before reeling in. You’ll be able to get back to the same depth without issues now.
Pyramid Lake is a few miles from Castaic, at the foot of the San Emigdio mountains in northern Los Angeles County. It is incredibly scenic and has some great striper fishing opportunities.
One of the most significant selling points for this lake is that it offers fantastic shore fishing.
Spring and fall provide some epic fishing for striped bass. One thing to watch for here is the power squadron. There is a lot of recreational boating on Pyramid, so be prepared and look for quieter times on the lake.
Large numbers of stripers are stocked yearly, and the lake has great numbers of returning stripers.
Check the regulations before setting out because, at this lake, anglers tend to chum a bit to bring the fish in.
Pyramid Lake also has many of the other usual gamefish for the region as well as being the southernmost lakes known for smallmouth bass fishing in California.
Diamond Valley Lake
Diamond Valley Lake has some pretty fantastic fishing opportunities.
The structure of the bottom offers excellent holding areas for stripers when they get tired of chasing baitfish.
They need to stay on their toes, though, because the giant blue catfish in the lake have no problem eating the smaller stripers. There have been blue cats caught here over 50 pounds.
Stripers are no slouches and have been brought in at around 20 pounds, with bigger ones being caught fairly often.
With the beauty of the lake and the fantastic mix of fish in Diamond Valley Lake, you’re bound to have a great trip to this Riverside County reservoir.
Silverwood is fed from the California Aqueduct system, which brought in the stripers from Northern California to San Bernardino County.
Since this lake is set between the ocean and the desert, its temperature remains pretty stable, which leads to successful fishing throughout the year.
Plus, it’s just freaking beautiful.
Big stripers live here in Silverwood Lake, as do big largemouth. Ten-pound-plus largies and 20-pound-plus stripers are not entirely common.
Target the area near the dam, or head into Quiet Cove, Chamise Cove and Quarry Cove, which are all open to boats and have access to deeper waters.
Stay out of the southern end of the lake on boats. There are restrictions in place that you need to familiarize yourself with.
The Marina Dock is a great spot to sit back and fish, though there is a small fee.
Anglers have caught stripers on hotdog chunks here, so they are obviously not terribly finicky.
Be it a 20-pound striper or a 20-pound carp; they are both hanging out at Lake Skinner.
Bring a few anchovies and maybe some white bread dough balls, and your day will be full of catching big fish.
Located near Temecula, Skinner has plenty of camping and lodging nearby, along with several boat launches. Spend a day or a vacation with the family, and you’re sure to have a great time.
Munz Ranch Road Site, Avenue S Site, 70th Street West Site, 77th Street East Site, and Longview Road Site are all access points to the aqueduct.
The aqueduct carries stripers along with the water it transports from the Sacramento River Delta into SoCal.
While you are limited to shore fishing, there is some fantastic striper fishing in the water.
Pro tip: Chuck your bait out and slowly retrieve it against the current. You’ll catch stripers pretty steadily.
Pro tip 2: Don’t fall in. Dangerous currents and a deep-water column make the aqueduct a hazardous place to fish.
There are ladders and ropes along the aqueduct, but that only helps if you can get to them. Bring a buddy with you, so you always have someone to help if things get hairy.
Stripers are around in many parts of California, for at least part if not all year.
The waters we’ve listed here include the best places in this big state to catch them, it’s also up to you to put in the time to find them and trick them into biting your lure or bait.
Just remember to put spawning females back because they are carrying the next generation of fish.